We have a pop-up tent trailer, and like most models, it has vinyl windows with screen material on the outside. When the windows are unzipped and rolled down, vinyl straps that are sewn in at the top and attached with velcro tabs at the bottom keep the rolled material in place.
Last fall when we were camping, we were forced by cold, wet weather, to take shelter inside our trailer for most of one day. As anyone who has been inside a tent trailer can tell you, it’s a very small space. It’s easy to feel caged in very quickly. As we stared out through the zipped-up vinyl, I was struck by how much the vinyl straps resembled bars on a window, adding to the caged-in appearance.
With the windows up, the straps are unnecessary. Velcro to the rescue! We keep a roll of velcro in the trailer. It’s handy for wrapping around all kinds of things to secure them. I cut off a couple of strips, rolled the straps up to the top, and secured them with the velcro. We leave them on the straps when they’re down, so they are always at hand.
It is amazing how much better the windows appear with the straps out of view. In a cramped space that can become cluttered easily, the simplest things can really improve your vista! Especially when you’re stuck inside looking out.
Today is a proud & poignant moment in the life of camping parents. Our youngest child has flown the camp nest and ventured out on her own adult camping trip.
The oldest of our three birdies has been camping since he was nearly a newborn and took up the cause on his own in his early 20s, traveling with a set of camping gear in the back of his truck at all times. The middle child was not as big a fan of camping in his younger days but now loves the outdoors, biking, and hiking. He recently asked for a list of basic camping needs 🙂
The youngest, our daughter, embarked today on a one night, holiday weekend, camping trip to a nearby Ontario Provincial Park, 16 years less one month and a half from her first family camping trip on the Oregon Coast
Looks like she knows her way around setting up that tent 😉
Dad had a well-planned appointment at the time of his little girl’s departure so it was left up to Mom to go through the list of necessities…
M “Where are your utensils?”
D “We are just having hot dogs over the campfire. We don’t need forks and knives.”
M “How about skewers?”
D “Oh, right. Where are those?”
M “Here, let me get the good long metal skewers for you [smug smile].”
M “Bug spray? Sunscreen? Paper plates? How many? Trash bag?”
D “Oh, right. Trash bag.”
M “I already put it in your toe bag [smugness again]. And take waterproof matches in case the lighter runs out. And remember to pick up a campground map at the office when you check in…”
D “Thanks Mom!”
M “And always remember to leave the campsite cleaner than when you arrived!”
Should you fill up your on-board water tank before pulling out of the driveway or wait until you get to the park and use their potable water supply. The answer involves both personal preference from your own experiences as well as some good old fashioned physics.
Points to consider: The availability of water at your destination, your trailer & towing configuration, safety, and economy.
#1 Will you have access to potable water at your destination? This is very important to find out ahead of time! If you’re using a public or private park, they will almost always provide potable (drinkable) water. It may be available on site in full hook-up spots, or at a centrally located filling station. Sometimes the water fill is in the same area as the dumping station, which could mean a really long line-up on busy weekends. In some busier Ontario Provincial Parks additional dump station lanes are being installed, and even separate water filling areas. Don’t count on the water being turned on in the shoulder seasons and check for boil-water advisories or seasonal maintenance. We’ve encounter each of these situations and were glad we had water on-board. Don’t fill up with non-potable water, even if you plan to boil it, because it could contaminate your water system. If you are boondocking, find out if there is a public park or rest stop that allows fresh water fill-ups. Some RVers on long trips will stay overnight in a park or pay a day pass so that they can fill up and dump all their tanks along the way.
Shallow tank across the trailer’s width
#2 How is your trailer configured? Some have shallow tanks that stretch across the bottom of the trailer while others might have a boxier tank located to one side or perhaps under the bed. Ours is located evenly across our axel. We find that if we’re traveling down the highway, or in windy conditions, a full tank provides a stability to our lightweight trailer. If your tank sits to one side, how is the remaining weight balanced? Where are grey/black tanks located if you have them, and other weighted items like a stove, pantry, or refrigerator? It’s always best to travel with an evenly distributed load. Some folks prefer to bring bottled water or large containers they set on the picnic table. Keep in mind, that load needs to be balanced, too.
#3 For today’s physics lesson: take a water bottle and will it half full. Put the lid on and tilt it back and forth on its side. The water starts to slosh around, just as it would in your trailer’s tank. This can negatively affect your steering around turns and handling up and down hills. With large enough tanks, your trailer may begin to sway, which is very dangerous. If you haven’t used all your water while on your trip, drain it on the way out of the park or at the park’s designated spot. Make sure it’s all drained before turning onto a highway since the spray can become a hazard for drivers behind you, especially bikers.
Box tank under a side cabinet
#4 Fuel economy. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs at 62°F (3.78 kg @ 17°C). Our small trailer has a 22 gal water tank + 6 gal water heater. The water heater always remains full so that adds roughly 50 lbs plus another 183.5 lbs when the water tank is full. Topped up, that’s under 250 lbs. Heck, that’s just a trip to Costco with the kids! On short trips, this has very little impact on our SUV’s fuel economy but your situation may be different.
#5 Always, ALWAYS mind your tow capabilities. Keep your fully loaded weight within your vehicle, trailer, and hitch ratings. Towing over your weight rating is unsafe because it affects your steering and braking capabilities. A broken axel, hitch, or overheated engine are real safety risks on the highway and are a quick way to ruin a trip. Even if you plan to fill-up at the park, the water may be located quite a distance from your site, and sometimes up and down bumpy terrain.
#6 Is your water at home metered? If water fill-up is included in your park stay, you can save a little money on your home utility bill by using theirs. It’s probably not a big savings but it’s something to consider in your budget.
Shish kabobs are great for cooking over a campfire or portable grill. Small strips or cubes of meat cook quickly, saving time and fuel. You can marinate the meat ahead of time and transport it pre-cut in a zip-lock bag. You can use a variety of meats and veggies as well as marinades. Our faves are beef sirloin, pork loin, chicken breast or thigh, or shrimp. Follow a theme with the marinade by using Italian dressing, Greek dressing, chimichurri, teriyaki, jerk, etc. Bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and pineapple are all good for grilling.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that veggies typically cook more quickly than meat. The best way to cook them is separately! Put meats and veggies on different skewers so everything cooks to perfection. This is great if you’re feeding meat-eaters as well as vegetarians. You can also use several kinds of meats, like a skewer for beef, one for chicken, and another for shrimp to allow for varying cooking times.
When done, give each person one meat & one veggie skewer. You can also take everything off the skewers and simply serve on a large plate.
Beef Skewers with Veggies & Rice (chicken skewers work great, too!)
One of the great joys of camping is cooking outdoors, whether it be over a campfire, on a Coleman stove, or a portable grill. No matter where, cooking is an opportunity to engage all the senses… The smell of ingredients as they cook. The sound of sizzle on a grill. The sight of items browning and bubbling plus the warmth of the fire. And, of course, the TASTE!
When you’re preparing food outdoors, weather becomes a big factor. It can still be fun to cook in the rain under the cover of an awning or canopy. If you’re forced to change your menu, a hot bowl of soup or mug of tea hunkered down inside a trailer on a chilly day can be fun, too. That’s all part of the adventure of camping!
Of course, rain and wind are big issues if you are relying on a campfire, and in wildfire conditions, may not be accessible at all. But a small portable stove or grill shouldn’t present a problem… or perhaps they can.
We have camped in windy conditions a number of times, especially in the shoulder seasons. To our initial surprise, it had a bigger effect on outdoor cooking than we expected. For many of us seasoned cooks, we rely on all of our senses as we prepare food, even if we’re not aware of it.
A moderate breeze can blow your sense of smell away so you have to be more mindful of ingredients burning. It can also reduce or snuff out a flame. A strong wind through the trees or active surf can rob you of sounds of sizzling or bubbling. Wind will also dissipate heat and moisture more rapidly, so food can take much longer to cook at a higher flame, even in relatively warm summer temperatures. Cold temperatures will mean that you’ll go through a lot more fuel, making meals that require shorter cooking times more preferable.
Here are our best tips for cooking during windy events:
Always check with the park or district first to make sure there are no burn bans and it is safe to have an open flame outdoors
Orient your cooking surface in the area most protected from wind taking advantage of the natural topography or your tent/trailer as a wind-break
Use the heat-safe wind shield that many portable stoves & grills come with to protect your flame
Be prepared for longer cooking times
Be prepared to use more fuel
Use lids to keep heat and moisture from escaping, especially glass ones you can see through
Keep an eye on your food and flame closely for burning or snuff-out
Have alternate menu plans that are quick to heat like a can of soup or chili, or don’t require cooking at all
ALWAYS make sure you pick up any items that can blow away and extinguish all flames
Winnie-the-Pooh would add, “Avoid camping on Winds-days.”
Here’s a perfect make-ahead meal for questionable weather forecasts, that requires no cooking at all:
As we settle into the middle of winter, we look expectantly ahead to spring. The trillium, Ontario’s official flower, is in the height of its bloom from mid-April through the end of May. They are also know as wake-robin because they open up their blossoms around the time that robins appear. Look for trillium in woodland areas where they provide a flowery carpet beneath the shade of forests.
Most often spotted are Pacific Trillium (trillium ovatum) which turn from pure white to pink as they age. The deep crimson colour of Red Trillium (trillium erectus) may also be spotted in some areas. Admire this fleeting flora but be sure to leave them undisturbed. The plant matures for five years before it produces blossoms. They deserve respect!
NOTE: It is illegal to pick trillium in some areas across North America.
There are numerous ways that camping in the great outdoors makes us mindful of conservation.
Camp Breakfast on the Coleman Stove
The first several are pretty obvious. Camping involves conserving supplies, fuel, and waste. Whether it’s hiking into the backwoods, driving into a park with a tent & trailer, or enjoying full hookups in a motorhome, you have to think a lot about conservation. Limiting food and water is necessary to conserve on space and carrying capacity. Cooking and cleaning uses up food and water, but also fuel, be it firewood, liquid fuel, or hydro. Each of those adds weight and/or expense. When the temperatures drop, you need warm clothing or you’ll have to burn more fuel, either one impacting your carrying capacity. And then there is waste. Empty containers and canisters have to be disposed of properly, or in the case of backpacking, packed back out. Disposing of washing water around a campsite or common water tap is frowned upon because it attracts unwanted wildlife so you have to give it due consideration. If you have a port-a-potty or RV holding tanks, you’re really thinking hard about conservation!
Once you’re in the conservation state of mind, it’s easier to carry it forward! We spent roughly half of last summer camping and found ourselves conserving more at home, in all ways.
Camping also promotes conservation through nature conservancy.
March Boardwalk at Presqu’ile Provincial Park
Filling up a campsite with tents, tables, and chairs may not seem like it’s conserving nature, but it is. Most parks, especially public ones, use some of the funds from camping and day-use fees to help maintain all of the undeveloped area, preserving the flora and fauna. As campers, we are typically granted fairly limited access to these areas via trails, boardwalks, beaches, and open spaces. The space beyond can be vast. Guided walks, nature centres, and programs give us opportunities to learn about the surrounding ecosystems, plants, and animals. As adults and children, we gain knowledge and an appreciation for the habitat and, in turn, are more likely to feel the need to preserve it. In an urban area, our daily interaction with nature may be as small as a neighbourhood park, small garden plot, or maybe just some potted plants in a window. When we are camping and hiking, we are surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty and the imperative to maintain its viability is stronger on a visceral level.
Sure, there will always be the inconsiderate campers that trample down the underbrush and leave garbage behind, but think about how much closer and immediate that is when you’re standing next to it, rather than just whizzing by on a busy road or highway. We’re much more likely to pick up trash and leave the area cleaner than we found it. Using tree-fall or campfire wood from outside a park may be restricted or prohibited, but it may still happen. Perhaps while traipsing around in the forrest grubbing for campfire fodder better suited as animal habitat, a camper will encounter poison ivy, and think twice about it the next time.
Through our interaction with nature we quickly see how important it is to conserve it for the betterment of the environment and our own spirit.
Camping under the stars is truly a delight. Sometimes, however, you need a light a little brighter than the stars.
Flashlights and headlamps are great for after-dark trips to the comfort station and lanterns are perfect for an evening by the campfire. Our pop-up trailer has indoor lights that run off the battery or shore power but they are blindingly bright. Occasionally all we want is a small light so we can grab a bottle of water or check to see if we switched the water pump off. We found the perfect battery-operated LED light at Home Depot for $6.99!
It’s small, portable, and lasts the entire season of one set of batteries. It has sticky-backed velcro tabs so you can mount it and still have the ability to remove it to carry elsewhere or change the batteries. It’s ideal for tents or trailers – anywhere a little task lighting is needed now and then. Its slim design allowed us to mount it under the countertop overhang in front of our sink. It activates by pushing the light bar which is handy at night. No fumbling around for a small switch or dangling a flashlight. We use it to illuminate our switches for the water heater and pump, as well as the fridge, all of which are impossible to see in the dark. It provides just enough light to see but not so much that it disturbs someone if they’re sleeping. We easily remove the light to bring it in for the winter and the sticky tabs can be removed with rubbing alcohol if you we ever need to. We find it so handy that we picked up a second one for our storage box!
removable and portable
mountable with attached velcro tabs
runs a full season with occasional use on 3 AAA batteries
We began family camping in a tent over 15 years ago with our three kids and a dog.
First family camping trip at Nehalem State Park on the Oregon Coast
It evolved from one tent to two, multiple coolers, a fully stocked camp kitchen, and more bins than you can imagine. We would remove a row of seats from our minivan and fill a car-top carrier as well. Once our oldest kid could drive, we would take two cars.
Full campsite set-up at Silver Lake Provincial Park
As time went on, and our camping numbers dwindled, we decided it would be nice to sleep off the ground. We’re not getting any younger! We bought a very small pop-up tent trailer and this has been our third season with it. On the odd occasion when our kids come along, they still sleep in their own tent.
A pop-up tent-trailer is sometimes called a PUP. Ours is very small and looks like something a big RV spit out, so we call it our Escape Pod. It is unique in that it only had one pull out bed end instead of two, but it doesn’t make much difference in set-up time.
Escape Pod – Coachmen Clipper 104GS – 10ft box on a 12ft platform – 16’9″ travel length
These are the most important things we’ve learned in our switch from tent to tent-trailer – Pros & Cons of a PUP:
Pro: Full campsite set-up with our PUP is 30-40 mins vs 1 – 1-¼ hrs with tents.
Pro: Breakdown with our PUP is 1 – 1-½ hrs vs 2 hrs with tents.
Neutral: Set-up and breakdown in the rain is miserable either way and requires set-up when you get home.
Pro: A trailer allows seasonal on-board storage of cooking & table wear, utensils, campsite items, chairs, bedding, first-aid and toiletries, eliminating almost all gear transfer from our vehicle.
Pro: We bring food items separately in our vehicle like when we tent camped but transfer canned pantry items to the trailer after set-up.
Pro: We stock our on-board fridge with food the morning of or day before leaving as opposed to bringing huge chest coolers when we tent camped.
Pro: The bed can remain made up when the trailer is collapsed, even with our memory foam mattress topper.
Pro: We add clothes to the trailer just before leaving vs duffle bags in our car when we tent camped. No roof-top carrier required!
Pro: On board hot/cold water/sink, propane heater, battery/hydro lighting & fan, battery/hydro/propane fridge, propane double cooktop, insulated above ground bed, and cassette pottie have increased our comfort level immeasurably!
Con: All of the above mentioned amenities require maintenance, especially in spring and fall. Winterizing is a MUST!
Pro: Stand-up room in the heavy canvas trailer with screened zip windows provides a haven from rainy, cold, or buggy weather.
Pro: It’s easier to keep everything dry in a trailer vs a tent.
Con: Some campsites do not allow trailers.
Con: You need space to store your trailer when not in use.
Neutral: We stayed within our tow-rating so we wouldn’t push our vehicle limits. It’s easy to go overboard and bring too much gear with a trailer!
CON: PUPs are more expensive, new or used, than even the best tent set-up and your vehicle must be equipped to tow.
If you have any pros & cons to add, please leave a comment!! We’d love to read your experiences.
Dave took his young son Connor camping for the first time on the Washington coast in their Westfalia long before his 1st birthday.
Dave sporting baby Connor at the Washington Coast
Years later as a family of five, we made our first few camping test runs in the backyard, easing our kids into sleeping under the stars. OK, the 3-year-old insisted on going inside shortly after dark. She has turned out to be our #1 camper!
Warming the kids (and mom) up to the idea of camping in the backyard
Our first real family outing was to the Oregon coast. Trips to the Pacific Northwest mountains and coasts followed. After relocating to Canada, camping along the forests, lakes, and rivers of Ontario resumed. As the kids have gotten older and gone in their own directions we find that it’s more often just the two of us. The oldest and youngest, 25 and 18, still couldn’t resist the camping call this summer, though, and joined us at our favourite family destination.
Oldest and youngest kids, Connor & Madeline at Presqu’ile Lighthouse, Lake Ontario
Camping is a great way to teach your kids skills that will last a lifetime, and not just how to build a campfire.
#1 Appreciation for Outdoors
There is nothing as freeing as a wide open space and the smaller you are, the bigger it is. Beaches and grassy fields are wonderful places for kids to run around and let their spirits soar. Fly a kite, throw a ball, splash in water, dig in the sand. Or get out in a canoe and fish. These are all great activities no matter how old the kids are.
Kite rentals at Manzanita Beach, Oregon
Trails through forests, marshes, meadows, and rocky outcroppings have all kinds of hidden delights like grasshoppers, frogs, snakes, and turtles. Many parks offer nature activities for kids that help them explore all the wonderful plants and animals right in front of them.
Even from your campsite your kids will encounter birds, bugs, critters, and plants. After dark, if you’re lucky, they can count the starts, watch a meteor shower, or see the fireflies flashing in the air.
And if stormy weather rolls in, your kids can have fun watching the clouds fill the sky, the sound of rain on a tent, wind against a trailer, the smell of wet ground and forest, and splashing through mud puddles.
#2 Respect for the Outdoors
Nature is beautiful but also filled with hazards. One of the first things to teach your kids is how to identify plants that can be hazardous. Leaves of Three, Let Them Be! We’ve had our share of run-ins with poison ivy, bug bites & stings, scrapes, and bruises. Don’t let your kids fear these things. Teach them, and yourself, how to be vigilant. Most parks have information guides and posters to help. Make sure you’re well stocked with bug spray and first aid supplies.
Some parks might experience bear activity but regular visitors will almost always include raccoons, skunks, chipmunks, and squirrels. Depending on where you are, other critters will surely slink around in the bushes. These animals may be cute, but their bites are not so make sure your kids understand that they are not pets. Don’t Feed The Animals! They can wreak untold damage on your campsite. And if you’re in bear country, educate everyone about how to deal with a bear encounter.
#3 Respect for Others
When you are camping, you’re kids not only have to get along with their family, just like at home, but will have to be mindful of other campers. Teach your kids camping etiquette (many adults could use a refresher, too!).
Let your kids run around all day long but remind them to not invade others’ space. Compare it to running through some one else’s yard. And as the sun goes down, so does the noise. Campfires are a great way to set the scene for bedtime and having a story or two at the ready helps everyone settle.
Keep It Clean! Upon arriving at a campsite we always handed our kids bags and had them pick up garbage, even small things like bread ties and plastic straw wrappers. Those are choking hazards for small children and animals. We’ve taught them to always clean up after themselves so we don’t attract unwanted varmints. Likewise, the same goes for the beach, trails, and picnic sites. The kids do it once again when we leave while we finish packing up our gear. Leave it cleaner than you found it.
In shared public areas like water taps, toilets and washrooms, remind kids to be respectful of others privacy. We share these spaces to do private business so it’s a good life lesson to teach your kids that everyone has a personal “bubble”. Don’t invade it, and don’t let anyone invade yours. And again, clean up after yourself.
#4 Respect for Nature
This should be a no-brainer, but it comes up all the time. From the very beginning let your kids know that it’s hurts Nature if you chop down trees in the park and pick up tree-fall. Animals need all of that to build their own nests. Stay on marked trails so you don’t trample over their homes. If you tie something to a tree, make sure to take it down when you’re done so you don’t choke its bark as it grows. There is a ton of fun to be had without being destructive. Be kind to Nature and we’ll all get to enjoy it for years to come.
#5 Building a Campsite
The real fun begins at the campsite. Well, set-up and break-down is often not only tedious but stressful for everyone. Some snacks and drinks at the ready always came in handy for us. Still does!
Even a little child can help set up camp by unrolling a sleeping bag and arranging their pillows and toys. Unfolding camp chairs and picnic table clothes do double duty keeping kids busy and helping parents. When they’re a little older, they can learn to set up their own tent, a momentous time for us grown-ups!
Kids setting up their own tent at Silver Lake, Ontario
Kids can participate in making meals around a campfire and help with washing dishes, especially fun if you do it outside and a little water splashing might be involved.
Building a campfire is a skill that will last a lifetime! (So is doing laundry, but that’s not nearly as fun). We started with the easy stuff and worked up: what to use to light a fire, how to best stack the wood, and how to safely chop wood with an axe & hatchet. It should be noted that being safe around a lit fire and HOW TO PUT A FIRE OUT WHEN YOU’RE DONE are ongoing reminders.
Ben chopping firewood at Presqu’ile Provincial Park
Don’t underestimate your kids and build their skill levels with their age. Teach them how to safely change the propane canister on a portable stove or lantern, what to do to maintain a trailer or camping gear, put out an awning, store food properly, how to step into a kayak or canoe, first aid, and what to do in an emergency. These things can be fun, not chores, if you let them happen instead of make them happen.
Our middle child, as it turns out, hated camping. We didn’t learn this until he was a teenager, and by then, old enough to stay home. We felt terrible that for years we’d subjected him to something he didn’t enjoy. Not everyone is born to camp. Funny enough, now well-entrenched in university, he expressed interest this summer in camping, perhaps with some friends. Good thing we have held onto all our gear through the years! We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s a good cook, loves cycling, can chop wood, and builds a mean campfire.